Have you ever heard of the concept, the causal loop? Well, though I am familiar with the concepts that make up the causal loop, in regard to people and performance, I had never really conceptualized them like I am about to present them here.
It is important in any leadership, nay, any team environment to understand a very basic principle. Ready? Good. Here it is.
People and performance both matter. Seems like common sense, yes? Well, often only one side of the causal loop is focused on, which creates an imbalance in a very functional system. How does it work? Good question. Let’s take a look, shall we.
The Causal Loop
In any system, symmetry, or balance, is created when all the system pieces work together. With both symmetry and balance, you can move forward, or produce an output, if you like. And, like any system, when one part is dysfunctional, or is not being paid attention to, the whole system suffers. It may, for instance, still produce an output, yet there will be long-term sacrifices.
It is common for leaders to get caught up in metrics. Meaning, at some point in their tenure, and sometimes this can last the entirety of their tenure, they become obsessed with “the numbers.” It matters less what those numbers, or metrics are, what matters, is that when, as a leader, we become obsessed with results, we forget about the people that make the results happen.
Without people, results are an impossibility. Therefore, if you find yourself stuck on metrics, remember, that focusing solely on outcomes may work for a time. Really, it may. Yet, a performance only approach is not sustainable. Period.
In time, what will occur is that people will burn out, quit, and overall morale will decline. Why? Because their needs are not being prioritized. Simple.
And, like any system, if the parts of the system are not being prioritized and taken care of, the system will, in time, fail. It will always occur this way. Always.
Now, conversely if as a leader you are always focused on the people, and never focus on the performance, the system will also become dysfunctional, yet will do so in a completely different way.
When the culture of a workplace is the single focus on a team, or in a department, or in an organization or business, then leadership is missing a very important part of the balance of creating and maintaining an effective system. Performance.
Simply, there must be a focus on both people and performance for movement, and eventual traction to occur. A balance, if you like.
It is very normal on a team, any team, for the focus to shift back and forth between the workplace culture and the people, to performance. Shifting of this kind is especially normal on new teams.
I’ve written extensively about the team I work on, and have more forthcoming, and about how the entire first year was spent developing relationships. That was necessary. As it was necessary in year 2 to develop metrics, and in year 2.5 and 3 to focus on performance and people. Both.
There is a balance that can be found, and I imagine it is different on each team, and within each organizational or business culture. Yet, a leader can find it by paying attention. Paying attention to the people and the performance.
Movement and Traction
When you have achieved balance, know that the balance will never really truly be 50% people, 50% performance. Meaning, that sometimes there will be more of a focus on people, and at times on performance. It’s really most important to develop an awareness about how the causal loop functions as a system.
If you sway one way too far, you can move back to center, and vice versa.
Now, when you’ve increased your awareness about the causal loop, and pay attention to both people and performance, guess what?
Things will begin to move, and in some cases, like ours, move so quickly and beautifully, it is quite magical. And, once things start to move, traction will occur.
With traction, you are more than moving as a team. You are moving as a team while being pointed in the exact same direction all focused on the exact same goals and outcomes. Therefore, your performance and results show this truth.
Remember, it takes time to get to a balance between a focus on people and performance; and, that it is the awareness about the importance of both that matters. And, that? Well, that’s progress. Beautiful.